Liquid Bread for Democrats
Beer is the epitome of democratic culture. Over centuries of its existence, this ancient elixir has evolved from a humble "liquid bread" into a world of its own, embodying the values of freedom and experimentation.
The art of brewing incorporates a medley of ingredients such as vegetables, fruits, berries, peppers, chocolate, whiskey, rum, and even salt. Ukrainian brewer Ten Men has even crafted a beer with the flavors of traditional borscht. Americans, Belgians, and Ukrainians age their beers in barrels previously embraced by bourbon or port wine. The Belgians, in their ingenuity, have employed wild yeasts and local berries for fermentation.
The Danes from To Øl have a beer with the taste of raw potatoes (or coffee brown ale).
To classify beer broadly, it can be divided into two categories: the refined and elegant styles produced by major breweries, and the unhindered experiments conducted by smaller ones. A Heineken lager, for instance, remains consistent across borders and can be found on every airplane. Its value lies in its ubiquity. However, when the desire for novelty takes hold, craft beer becomes the chosen path.
But what exactly is craft beer? The journey from Belgium to the USA
The origins of craft beer, when viewed through a historical lens, trace back to Belgium. As Germany introduced the De-Reinheitsgebot (purity laws that regulated beer ingredients), the Belgians embarked on a path of experimentation. They tweaked the proportions of malt and hops, employed diverse yeast strains, and added a range of fruits and berries to their brews.
Belgian brewing traditions boast an astonishing array of styles, from robust and full-bodied Trappist ales meticulously crafted in monasteries, to lambic beers brewed through spontaneous fermentation.
These traditions found their way to the United States, the birthplace of the term "craft beer." The land of liberty breathed life into the world of brewing.
The modern history of craft beer in the USA began to unfold in the 1960s, with the rise of home brewing. Today, almost 90% of craft breweries in the States originated as humble home-based operations. Among them are trailblazers like Jack McAuliffe (New Albion, 1976), Ken Grossman (Sierra Nevada, 1979), and Pete Slosberg (Pete's Brewing Company, 1986).
The USA now boasts over 8,000 breweries, setting a record in terms of sheer numbers. Craft brewing has also gained popularity in countries such as Ukraine, the United Kingdom, Italy, Germany, Belgium, and Poland.
My personal favorites include Rochefort 10 from a renowned Trappist brewery in Belgium and Straffe Hendrik Quadrupel, also hailing from the land of the Belgians. For our American counterparts, it's advisable to start with the pioneers of craft brewing, such as Sierra Nevada and Rogue Ales, before venturing into the realm of contemporary craft beer headliners like Root + Branch, Willow Park Brewing, Schramm's Mead, and others.
Made in Italy
Italy has long been celebrated as a leader in the wine industry, with names like Prosecco, Sangiovese, Super Tuscans, Nero d'Avola, and Glera resonating in the minds of connoisseurs. However, Italy is also a thriving producer of craft beer.
The Italian craft beer movement gained momentum in the late 1990s and early 2000s, as a new generation of brewers embarked on experiments with local ingredients, traditional brewing methods, and innovative technologies. This period witnessed the emergence of numerous microbreweries across the country, each boasting a unique style and flavor profile that paid homage to its regional terroir (the land on which the raw materials grow).
Keep an eye out for Baladin, a notable brewery from Piedmont, and beer infused with Sicilian salt from Messina.
Glory to Ukraine and its brewers!
The history of brewing in Ukraine stretches back to the 11th century, according to historians. From the 13th century onwards, brewing became a special privilege reserved for cities and noble landowners.
Dating back to 1497, the oldest brewery in Ukraine, Mykulinetsky Brovar, holds a place of honor.
In the latter half of the 19th and early 20th centuries, brewing underwent a transition to industrial production, thanks to technological advancements. Numerous large-scale breweries emerged throughout Ukraine, with Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, St. Michael's, and other monasteries leading the way. Local entrepreneurs, such as Khriakov, and European brewers, such as Rikhert and Marr, opened their own establishments.
During the Soviet era, all breweries were nationalized and brought under the strict standards of the planned economy. Experimentation and the bourgeoisie were shunned. Beer transformed into a modest and straightforward beverage for the working class. However, behind the scenes, brewers pursued their passion, crafting not only the ubiquitous "Zhiguli" lager but also German bocks, Belgian witbiers, and British porters.
By the way, porters were originally brewed as robust and satisfying beers for port workers in England, hence the name.
The Ukrainian brewing industry experienced a revival in the 21st century. Today, Ukraine boasts one of the most diverse and dynamic beer scenes in Eastern Europe, with the craft beer industry continuously expanding.
Many Ukrainian breweries have successfully embraced international styles while infusing their beers with a distinctive Ukrainian identity. These breweries have become integral players in the country's beer landscape.
Despite the challenges posed by the war, Ukrainian brewers have displayed remarkable resilience, adaptability, and creativity.
Notable breweries to explore include Ten Men (known for their berry-infused sours and cheesecake-flavored beer), Underwood from Kyiv (at the forefront of the industry with their Mango IPA), renowned craft breweries like Varvar from Kyiv, "Pravda" from Lviv, and Rebrew from Brovary.
By the way, Ten Men Brewery, with their recent expansion, relocated from Vovchansk (Kharkiv region) to Lviv. They also have plans to open a brewery in Kyiv.
One of the active breweries that deserves attention is "Mykulynetska", which pays tribute to Ukrainian brewing history and offers lagers distinct from the typical European varieties, such as Heineken and Stella Artois.